Inside the American Nightmare

A few words appear, then disappear in reverse.

We say it and don’t say it. We ‘Happy New Year’ and scuttle away as fast as our fragile bones can take us to the safety of isolation once again.

What do you even say when your country is falling to hell.

The melon sky simmers the last of the winter day’s sky into smoke as I close my eyes and dream of anywhere else.

It happens like this: you are repeatedly filled simultaneously with shock and dread. As you are trying to process the horror of the most recent trauma, you are bracing yourself also for the next.

And there is always a next.

And this is repeated for years and years non-stop. The relentlessness of cruelty. The cheering on of the madness.

What is even worth saying when you are so exhausted by the end of the day your stomach hurts and your eyes ache and everything around you is cold as the icicles you saw last weekend, formed into perfect sharp daggers by frozen rushes of water plunging through the trees.

It is not enough to survive. You have to try to do it minute by minute, focus on each heart beat, each update, each revelation more gruesome than the last, you have to cling to each, like stepping stones you grab with your fists or your teeth.

The angriest parts of yourself, the saddest, they cling. they try to move you forward in spite of themselves. In spite of you.

Try to hold on. Try to hold on, it has to be over soon.

But nothing ends anymore. Not around here.

I’m sick to death of counting down to things. Dates. Elections. Deaths. Infections. Decisions. Betrayals. Disasters we should have seen coming.

We should have stopped it. It should never have come to this.

And so a deep well of disappointment, of desperation for a time gone by, opens up inside to swallow the shock and the dread and the utter, utter grief. And you realize the abyss they threw you into is threatening now the last of your sanity, your will, your equilibrium.

And if you understand what I am saying here, if you know how this feels, people will tell you not to feel it. They will try to cheer you up, make you see the good things, they will try to force your healing before it is time.

And you can tell them all to fuck off. Because I will tell you this, above everything else, feel your feelings. The true ones. If they are honest they are hurting, aching, crying, screaming.

This has been an American tragedy over and over and over for years.

We got here by denial. We laid our faith down in a bed of lies and hoped someone else would save us.

I am not sure why I write this, maybe to document my experience for fear it drifts away from me, even though I kind of wish it would.

We should be most afraid that we may forget. They want nothing more than for us to forget.

I try to catch all of it. I try to write it into history, but my mind gets heavy and my spirit falls like frigid winter rain.

It is tiresome, you know? This waiting for the end.

 

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Photo by Mike Palmowski

For What It’s Worth

It’s not everyday you look back over your life and try to string the dots together to make sense of the mess but today, it seems, is such a day.

This kind of thing happens at the end of any year I suppose, the reflecting, collecting, sifting through what happened, what you did or didn’t do with the time you had.

So much waste. So much treasure. And in the end what is it all for? Where have you come from and where have you gone?

The trees in the field are soft and strong and standing naked and alone under a blank pale sky. Winter is a part of everything now. In the icy running stream, in the sharp invisible air current beneath the tiny bird who soars silently into a bush of holly for shelter.

It is possible for a year to be stolen from you, you know that now in a way you hadn’t before. The rich and powerful will use what they have to bury you alive. Annihilation of the mind. Did you not know evil was a kind of intelligence or did you just forget?

It is a strange thing to wrap what’s left of your sanity around and an even stranger thing to fold into your heart in order never to forget. We make choices, we make selections, and we watch as chunks of our former selves float off far and away.

There is a new year coming around the corner, I can smell it like a wood fire burning, burning, as I pull on my boots and step out into the cold December air. I can feel it in my bones as shivers spike down my spine.

When the snow begins to fall, I duck under my hood and turn away from the wind.

All this time I have been given crowds and bursts in my chest like a flower desperate to bloom. I bite my tongue and close my eyes just to feel my skin without the noise.

It is the middle of the holiday week and all is quiet and still inside and all around. There is a certain kind of mood that is twinkle lights switched off and dead holiday decorations scattered on front lawns. Some kind of party is over that never quite began. It is the morning after and we are clutching our breasts on the wet walk home.

But there is beauty in the wreckage in our veins. There is a flicker of warmth in wide open sky.

How full of stories we seem to be but yet who dares to tell theirs out loud? Even to the bed sheets, even to the laptop screen. Who wants to see herself up that close and if she does what does that say about her.

Neurotic or adventurer? Poet or circus freak?

How much of what you worry about ever comes true? Has it been worth it to hang on or are you ready to just cut loose, come clean, break free?

As I make my way back along a side street, the purple evening sky begins her quiet descent over the white frozen hills. I can hear the geese cry out as their thick black bodies fly together in a V over head.

How this life comes at you screaming even as it’s drifting away.

All this churning in our souls as we decide how much we’ll say.

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Photo by Taylor Harding

The Rain Beneath Your Skin

And what is there really but fear and little breaks in the fear now and again.

In your mouth, the cold wet suburban streets calling for no one.

You trace the quiet desperation that rings itself around your week-old coffee mug and cherish the meek sadness of the rain which has gone on for decades underneath your skin.

You try to write but all the photographs are full of messages you cannot keep from weighing down your mind.

Time is always someone else’s.

Every person has a camera and each image is a waste because they are the same and never stop. The people, their hurt-filled eyes, the ignorance of their blackened words in constant.

A soft being dressed in white dances before the sun, they are setting into the sickness of green seaside.

I suppose I am afraid for all the reasons anyone would be afraid.

The deafness of silence and the way a scream fills the bathwater.

The fear which both bridges and divides one moment and the next as the evening comes but not carefully enough.

There is a moment I can feel in my chest like a song you wrote but not for me, an empty beach in December which drifts in the marrow of my bones.

You do not meet me and you are everywhere.

You are faceless without body or tongue, though all I do in these dead hours of sliding panic is imagine you exist.

A place I can lay down inside forever.

An opening in the blue.

We no longer seek for breaks of light.

We no longer hear the ticking of the clock.

The photographs and the people they capture,

continue falling like rain for ages.

 

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Photo by Christopher Ott

My Greatest Wish for Disillusioned Artists at the End of 2020

 

When I came across this passage in my readings the other day, it stopped me in my tracks. I re-read these particular lines a few times, letting them sink in. It was the first time I read something about exactly what I have been feeling for a few years now, most especially this year:

“I have written a lot of articles and several books about Russia’s transformation under Vladimir Putin, but the experience I’ve always found hardest to describe is one of feeling as if creativity and imagination were sucked out of society after he came to power. The reason is not so much censorship or even intimidation as it is indifference. When the state took over television, for example, it wasn’t just that the news was censored: it was that the new bosses didn’t care about the quality of the visuals or the writing. The same thing happened in other media, in architecture, in filmmaking. Life in an autocracy is, among other things, dull.” – Masha Gessen, for the The New Yorker

One of the insidious cruelties of living through an attempted coup by a sadistic psychopathic wanna-be dictator and his fellow goons is one that goes unspoken but not unnoticed by the artist.

When you are made to be constantly on alert for the next crazed dangerous act against the dignity of humanity, you enter into survival mode. What to watch for? How to know when it’s “really bad”? If it is really bad, what even do you do to protect yourself, the ones you love?

You become obsessed with understanding the new hell hole you find yourself in suddenly. At some point, and you can never quite put your finger on that point, it all becomes life or death. Sink or swim. Put up or shut up.

And all the while, a numbness toward your own writing, your own art, your own creativity, seems to have permanently lodged itself within your own spirit. You feel as if access to your very soul has been hijacked.

It becomes impossible to create the way you used to because you used to be able to detach yourself from the world entirely in order to touch the freedom inside of you, the wilderness. How that wilderness would welcome you readily into her beautiful dark.

When a leader disregards all life and crushes the pursuit of liberty and freedom for all every five seconds, a cloud of hopelessness, numbness, uselessness, descends into your body little by little. And because you are so disoriented by the noise and the chaos and the shock and the anger, you do not seem to realize what is happening to you.

Until you want to create something and find exhaustion where vitality used to be.

Indifference where curiosity once thrived.

I haven’t talked about this with anyone, but this is what I have been experiencing for a long time now. I haven’t told anyone because until I read the above passage, I didn’t really even know what I was feeling.

There will be a push for us to forget, to sweep all of the brutality of the past four years under the rug and just move on. Pretend it never happened.

But if you forfeit your opportunity to name what happened, to understand the depths of the wounds you have at the hands of a lunatic with a lust for death and destruction, how will you ever recover your creativity?

There has to be a clearing, or perhaps more precisely, a clarity. A clear awareness of what you have endured, what it felt like, why it felt that way.

Because you are never going back to the way it was before. Now you have experienced the madness and the shock of the realization that blunt viciousness can also cause a dullness within. Abuse causes a dulling of the senses without your even realizing it because your nerves are too busy fraying at the edges over and over and over again.

The next twelve days are holidays for me. I’m planning to close out this terrible year with a great deal of quietude, soul searching, reading, poetry, journaling, and time in nature.

I love the winter. The solace of the silence of the snowy cold and endless white-blanketed fields.

With all my heart I hope that we artists are not buried for good, but slumbering.

That in the darkness we learn again to thaw, again to melt, again to let go.

Again to dream.

 

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Photo by Hannah Gullixson

Pretend It Doesn’t Hurt Us

The snow is coming down like a beautiful crystal mess. In each intricate icy bit of frozen lace, the rigid pixels of the year falling down on hard pavement.

Melting like a suicide. Like an attempt to disappear by smoothly changing form. The texture of resistance, slipping, slipping.

There is a softness in the sharp cut of the cold that cannot be explained because it stands still in the midst of the motion.

Peace at the center of the chaos, as if it had never ceased to exist.

It’s the gray dullness of a winter afternoon just around two o’clock which is the time of day I hate the most. It’s too late and too early to decide what to do because you are sick to death of the morning dragging itself on and your bones ache for the sensual cover of evening dark.

For the life of me I cannot understand why people hate the early darkness of winter. What are they even doing in the light that is so goddamn important?

I am standing in my back garden watching the tall naked trees cling to the blanketing white, all is quiet as the heartbeat underneath the stiffened fingers of my rib cage.

Stepping into the doorway under a tiny overhang, I light up a cigarette and take a sweet deep suck, my cheeks pulling in like carved hollows. I know I shouldn’t but I love the dirty taste. I crave the clench in my tender lungs like a pathetic ragged hug.

Smoke curls up into the white swirling around me as I imagine drifting away entirely, my body only a whisper on the wind which moves the highest branches against a pillowed sky.

Before we can know what we even had we are ready to lose it all for a lick of the desire for something so much more than this. For all the beauty, there is a sadness we cling to perhaps so that we don’t lose ourselves into the madness.

Pain as sanity. Pain as anchor. Pain as real.

But when I look out across a landscape flush with fallen leaves, fallen trees, broken fences crushed against broken dreams, I wonder.

Can’t we just cover it.

Bury it, let it freeze. Pretend like the past didn’t hurt us in places we refuse to see.

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Photo by Taya Iv

At the End of the Day of the Longing Year (audio)

It’s that time of year when the rain falls at dusk and you secretly hope it turns to snow, just so you can smell its moisture kissing the bare concrete.

Gray on gray skies to match the gray on gray drizzle and mist.

Bones in the midst.

The skeleton of the year passes through your finger tips.

Light a cigarette.

Lose the phone and your clothes and everything inside that forbids you.

Looking out across the tops of the empty trees which tower high and spindly above the naked, weary, wet blackened streets, I pour whiskey. It burns hot like the few spiced candles flickering in my windowsill, and I nestle into my thick buttery leather couch by the fire.

Cozy blankets, waning late afternoon light. It’s that time of year when the world and your insides and the mood of the space you occupy in your small self begins to dim.

Ever since I was a child I have found comfort in the low light. Something about it is worshipful to me, reverent, sweet with solemnity. Gentleness. I am touched with the idea of the undoing of harm.

My skin tingles with ache. All I haven’t done. All I have left to do. Crawling toward me and away.

Something in the way the dirty white cloud cover mutes all of the anxieties which too often seem to scream inside.

Something in the shadows which climb the walls like so many enchantments, widening chasms of welcoming deep.

This has been a year of such cruelty, frailty, tenderness. A year on its knees.

There is something about a kind of silence which hangs in the center of the room of the heart. The constant softness of the beat of the truth.

So soft as to be nearly imperceptible.

But, nevertheless, steady, constant, unending. Unpretentious. Demanding by not demanding, it knows nothing of loneliness.

Though you do. How you know, how you know. How you reach, and reach.

Comforting and unnerving in its immobile presence.

Because you see, no matter how loud they get out there, there is a voice without sound repeating in here.

In the place beyond the body, beyond the mind, beyond the spirit, beyond the love, beyond the fear.

I’m still here.

I’m still here.

I’m still here.

And the darkness swallows the corners of every room of every longing all over the globe.

Little listless stars pierce the galaxy somewhere beyond the clouds, like so many eyes, covered, glistening. A showering light falls past the tearful distance.

After billions and billions of the beg and yawn of quaking years.

Warmth. Light. Crystal cold vacancy.

Still here.

 

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Photo by Laura Chouette

America, What the Fuck

I live in a country where Kyle Rittenhouse gets out on two million dollars bail, praised, uplifted, …. and rumors of some bullshit deal with a coffee company? It’s so stupid I didn’t even bother looking into it.

He murdered two people in the street in plain sight.

He’s a kid. He’s old enough to know. By seventeen, you know a lot of things. You have learned what is right, what is wrong. What you have been encouraged, expected, even, to become.

A hero. A murderer. What are these words we use? On which we cannot agree? What is sickness? What is health? What is criminal? What is commercial?

I live in a country where we incarcerate for profit. Entire lives are thrown away for money. Depends, of course, on what you look like. Not what you did. That’s always, somehow, debatable.

This administration is dragging its buffoon clown feet on transitioning. What absolute fucking fools. What completely ignorant useless bastards.

People are dying. Starving. Jobless. Homeless. On the precipice of eviction just before the bitter cold of winter sets in hard, dark, and indifferent.

And the ones who could help, they turn their backs.

The rich and powerful head on home to their glossy marble fireplaces and turkey dinner super spreader events as the doctors and nurses cry alone in their hotel rooms, watching their babies through small screens.

There is wealth in this country. And there is bankruptcy. Humanity and inhumanity. Money, morality, hope, despair, agony, agony, agony.

My heart has been so heavy with grief and rage for so long. When all around things are bleak and mean and growing worse.

Yes, Biden. Yes, a vaccine. Yes, good people. Yes, yes, yes. I know. But those are hopeful cures for ills we are not even sure how to name yet. They may help, sure. But we are sicker underneath than we want to admit.

Is this what exceptional means? Because it’s a fucking joke right now. Right here. Here in the ‘greatest country on earth’ where half of us care with every fiber of our beings and the other half simply don’t care at all in the least.

It’s enough to make you sick. And quite honestly, I’m not interested in sugar coating anything. I want to acknowledge it. Finally.

For four years I have been “holding on.”

Well, now I’m letting go. Letting go of trying to pretend things are not as disgusting as they are. I’m exhausted. I’m tired. And I have so much privilege. And even still, I am spent.

I imagine what it’s like for those on the front lines of this pandemic. Risking their lives everyday so some assholes can recklessly spread a disease while claiming there is no disease.

Is this what we are now? We just completely disregard life itself? Kick in the teeth of the most genuinely good, selfless, and decent among us?

We are so ugly. We are so cruel. We are so divided and perverted and lost.

This is not an uplifting post, obviously. I didn’t plan to write it, just like I wrote a lot of things I didn’t plan on writing this year.

Plans seem ridiculous anyway.

But I had to say all of it. I am sick to death of people not just saying it. All day long, the smiles, the idiocy, the holding it in and holding it back and not having the ability to see what’s right in front of our ignorant faces.

For months I have researched and read articles, journalists, posts, op-eds, books, commentary, listened to podcasts, interviews, IG lives, and all the rest. Trying to understand. Trying to pull apart the lies from the truth.

To pinpoint some kind of guiding star glittering above the rubble this nation has become.

I know it’s there.

There’s just so much dust and sadness in my eyes right now I cannot see.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday. A bit of a break from the daily stuff for a few days. I am thinking of taking a social media break, too. I can’t keep up, I can’t stomach any more of the last gasps of this wholly incompetent and deliberately sadistic administration.

It’s an absolute bloody clown horror show.

Fuck every single one of the people who could have stood up and spoken truth to power to protect our democracy but didn’t. They do not give a single fuck and we should not compromise with a single one of them.

We are beyond the merits of a few individual actors. The GOP as a whole is a monstrous machine.

There is no compromise with bigotry. They can come over to our side if they want but the hell if we should move a single inch toward their nihilistic nonsense.

Fuck being nice. Fuck ‘understanding.’

I understand perfectly.

I see exactly what they’ve done.

 

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Photo by Gijs Coolen

 

You Do Not Need to Apologize for Being Intelligent

You do not need to apologize for your intelligence.

The number of times I have been attacked, shamed, ridiculed, mansplained, dismissed, unfriended, laughed at, yelled at, punished, humiliated, ignored, told to be quiet, told I talk too much, all because I am a woman with a brain, intelligence, and savvy, and am highly capable of critical and creative thought is an enormous amount of times.

Because this trash is normalized. It spreads rapidly, sometimes almost imperceptibly, through our culture, society, community, family.

We are “uncomfortable” with intelligent women being intelligent – exploring and displaying their intelligence unapologetically in their daily lives.

In public.

In full view.

Out loud.

So we patronize them.

We minimize them.

Cut them off.

Cut them down.

And so we women have to lean into that discomfort. Press it. Make them feel it. Don’t let up. Wake up. Pay attention to what is really happening when someone makes light of your thoughts, your intelligence, your ideas. When someone makes fun of you or dismisses you for knowing more than they know.

You are scaring them.

You are upsetting the balance of power they need you to believe in in order for it to continue to exist.

Fuck that.

Do not shrink yourself to make them feel more comfortable. Expand yourself. Expand your mind. Your reach. Your prowess.

Say what you know. Say what you think. Say what you believe. Tell of what you experience. Speak and breathe your ideas, visions, and thoughts into writing. Into art. Into existence. Into the light.

There are many, many deeply thinking, extensively well read, well researched, well spoken, powerfully moving women of every race, orientation, and background.

Seek them out. Read them. Uplift them. Pay them. Support them. Follow them.

And if you are one of these women – one of us – please don’t ever, ever let up.

No apologies.

No regrets.

 

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Photo by Yohann LIBOT

 

Killing Season: On Getting Through Election Week

Next week is gonna be a shit show. Even more than the last four years have been. The exploding culmination of all the corrupt entitlement, bigotry, lies, whining, blaming, killing, flailing, drama, chaos, wild accusations, scandal, deceit, sickness, and ignorance.

Our emotions will be played, manipulated, strung out, trampled, extorted, abused, and weaponized against us.

For weeks I have been counting down the days until Election Day in the USA. But the truth is ‘Election Day’ is now. It’s already happening. I think something like close to seventy million people have already voted in this country. An astoundingly large number of votes have already been cast and we still have five days to go before November 3rd.

It is heartening. And yet. The amount of anxiety that crawls beneath my skin is massive and constant. Fortunately for me (and I sincerely hope for you) I am surrounded by precious friends and family who help me to get through with laughter, love, and the strength that comes with the fabric of community.

I am lucky. I am privileged. I am blessed deeply. For this I am eternally grateful, and even still I never thought it would come to this. Not here. Not in America. Not in the land of the free and home of the brave, which is a sickeningly cliche thing to say, I know.

Why write any of this?

I’ve no clue if it is helping – me or you or anybody.

Because I can’t not write this. I can’t not capture in words the reality – the stark shrieking reality – of this time. This exact moment in history.

I write it as it happens knowing that very soon this time will be over, gone, swept away like grains of sand upon the winds of change.

We may have never thought it would come down to this one election which will decide the fate of our lives forever. Will we recover by trusting science and taking care of the least of us or will we be thrown into the darkest period we have ever known and possibly ever will, under the sadistic rule of a blood thirsty dictator.

We may never have thought this would be a choice to be made in our lifetimes. If you are like me, you are incredulous that this “choice” is so hard for some people to make.

But here we are.

It is what it is.

We have to play this as it lies.

We have anxiety and fear and disorientation.

But we also still have a voice. We still have power, resolve, community, hope, determination. We still get a vote and vote we will, and have, in massive numbers. Do not stop now. Do not stop ever.

Because this isn’t over on November 3rd. For myself, I am already practicing extreme self care in preparation for next week when every minute will be another shock, another surprise, another rant, another abuse of power.

What I keep believing in, though, is that what we are witness to is the final gasp of patriarchal power trying desperately, grossly, furiously, to keep its wrathful grip on a society which deep down it knows has already left it for dead.

We are not going back and we are not going away and we will not stop and we will not be silenced.

I don’t know what America will look like over the next three months, no one does. It is unthinkable yet highly likely that this president will tear us to shreds just for spite whether he loses or wins, concedes (ha) or doesn’t. He is already working quietly behind the chaotic scenes to dismantle the civil service, to gut and discredit the vital structures of science, environmentalism, social justice, journalism and many others, from the inside out.

Destruction. Demolition. Burn it all down, they don’t give a fuck about life of any kind. They are a cult of death, built on death, death as currency to gain more power and wealth.

But I do know that right now, recording this exact moment in time, while we all watch and wait and pray and guess and wonder AND VOTE, we can all feel that we have already been fundamentally changed forever.

We have been driven to the brink and forced to look ourselves square in the eye and answer for who we are, who we believe ourselves to be, what we expect not only of our leaders but of ourselves as leaders in this fight.

The next few months are gonna get ugly. But maybe if we acknowledge that now, we can take back a bit of our sanity ahead of time. Try to remind ourselves, over and over, that we will win.

No matter how long it takes.

 

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Photo by Annie Spratt 

 

 

 

Blueprint of Emotion (audio)

 

Having spent the bulk of the day pretending to be someone I’m not, I think about what love could possibly mean in a world as fucked up as this one, slide the key into the ignition and make my way home.

I pass the kids playing basketball on the courts near the baseball fields which stretch out along the road next to the tall apartment buildings with their white painted balconies.

I’m driving into the setting sun, flinching in the raging orange glare, in search of meaning in the patterns which have become the blueprint of my life. Time has moved so quickly while standing still.

There is a noise that distance makes. There is a rustling, a sifting sound of discontent that grates in the veins, reminding you of what you could have been if only you had done things differently.

The melancholy static of phantom pain, the ghost of a life at the sides of your breathing. And is it a mirror we find ourselves in, is it a window through which we find our faces reflected in the midnight snow.

The poets dream, it is our most cherished and distorted obsession. It becomes sustenance, somewhere as we emerge from innocence, it becomes blood.

By the time I’m home the evening light is fading and gorgeous, glinting along a single silk thread swinging loose from a spider web which straddles the electric wires outside my window.

In the privacy, in the silence, everything I held back so tightly for hours on end becomes unraveled from around my little aching bones.

There is smoke in the night air against my lips.

Falling leaves.

A faintly veined fragility in everything.

 

 

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Photo by Thirteen J